- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 24, 2002

HONOLULU Chinese authorities still have the upper hand in the battle against the Falun Gong religious sect and other dissident groups that use the Internet to organize, but a new report says time may be on the side of the dissidents.
"China faces a very modern paradox," says a report by the Rand Corporation, a California think tank.
Chinese leaders see the development of information technology "as an indispensable element in their quest for recognition as a great power."
At the same time, "China is still an authoritarian, single-party state with a regime whose continued rule relies on the suppression of anti-regime activities," the report says.
The Rand report, written by James Mulvenon, a specialist on China, and Michael Chase, a researcher on information technology, is titled "You've Got Dissent."
The Internet has expanded swiftly in China, mostly among young, educated people in big cities along the eastern seaboard.
In 1999, there were 2.1 million Internet users in China; at the beginning of this year, that had soared to 31.7 million. The number of computers connected to the Internet jumped from 747,000 in 1999 to 12.5 million this year, the report says.
With the Internet comes e-mail, which has been vital for the Falun Gong. When the sect's founder, Li Hongzhi, fled to the United States in 1999, he set up e-mail lists to communicate with adherents in China and new supporters in the United States.
He set up a secret press conference in Beijing to condemn police beatings and to disseminate articles.
Several members of the China Democracy Party, another dissident group, told Rand researchers that "use of e-mail and the Internet was critical to the formation of the party and allowed its membership to expand from about 12 activists in one region to more than 200 in provinces and municipalities throughout China in only four months."
The group has set up a dozen Chinese-language bulletin boards.
The Free Tibet movement, under the leadership of the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, India, has sites mostly outside China in London, Washington, New York, Canada and Switzerland.
One site offers information in 18 languages. Another, the Rand report says, "seeks to motivate and coordinate Tibetan independence support." A third seeks to raise money.
Tibet was invaded in 1949 and subjugated by China in 1951.
To counter the dissidents, Chinese authorities have turned to low-tech and high-tech solutions. The low-tech steps include shutting down electronic networks, using informers and surveilling dissident suspects and arresting them.
In March 2001, for instance, security officers arrested Yang Zili, a software engineer, for maintaining a Web site he called a "Garden of Ideas." His computer, books and other items were confiscated.
High-tech solutions include blocking Web sites and e-mail, hacking into dissident systems and monitoring the e-mail of foreign visitors and suspected dissidents.
In addition, the authorities spread disinformation on the Internet. Fake articles attributed to the Falun Gong's Mr. Li, for instance, have been sent to Internet users in China. Spamming or saturating Falun Gong e-mail addresses is a regular occurrence.
"The mixture of the two has proved to be a potent yin and yang, deterring most anti-regime behavior and neutering whatever remains," the Rand report says.
Even so, the authors say, that "does not lead inexorably to the conclusion that the regime will continue to be immune from the forces unleashed by the increasingly unfettered flow of information across its borders."

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